Top Five for Hiking with a Six Year Old

I think, if it were possible to write a guide about how to get *any* six-year-old out on the trail with a minimum of hassle or complaint, I would have already written the definitive tome. This activity, as we all know, requires subtlety and nuance; you’ve got to have the right touch at the right time in order to make it happen. Success is fleeting, but I’m here to tell you that getting to the point where your kid finishes a hike and immediately asks when the next one is going to be is possible.

That said, here are my top five suggestions (I won’t say “rules” because then they’ll just get bent and become useless) for taking your favorite child on the trail.

1) Set Reachable Expectations

Understand your kiddo. Figure out what motivates them and then use this as a carrot to propel them along your chosen path, sure. That’s good advice, but learn to set expectations with your kids too.

My six-year-old likes to know what’s coming. The expectation is that I will choose interesting trails for him to hike and let him know some of the things he can expect to see and experience along the way. In return, he knows that I expect that he’ll have a good time, exercise his curiosity and learn without whining. All this is reachable.

Neither of us expects the other to do more than we’re able. In his case, I can’t demand he hikes a 25-mile day with a pack (not yet anyway). In my case, AralBear understands that I can only endure so much slowness before I crack. We’re honest about how we’re feeling and performing too, without being judgy, which means that we’re staying ahead of those acute moments where burgeoning hikers become couch potatoes.

2) Good Boots, Better Socks

AralBear has a couple of different pairs of shoes that are hiking capable: a sturdy set of Keen’s and now a pair of Vasque boots which protect and support his ankles. The problem with the former is that the tread is meh on snow fields and in the mud. Additionally, they’re not waterproof. They’re great for shorter, dry distances but when we’re stretching our distances beyond three or four miles they’re worthless.

Enter the need for the Vasque boots. These dandies have thick lugs, are waterproof, and I haven’t heard a peep about his feet hurting since getting them. Maybe they fit a little better, maybe they’re just that much more comfortable.

Or maybe (and this is where I’m putting my money) the new socks I got to go with the boots are entirely responsible for the improvement in his experience. Ever since an early season hike we went on where his feet got wet, I’ve been buying him a couple of pairs of really nice hiking weight socks a month. Now I carry a spare pair for both of us (and I carry them because I don’t want the spares to become wet or dirty on accident). On long days, if he starts to complain, I usually insist that we sit down and take our shoes off. I’ll have him switch out socks after a quick blister check and a snack, and then I hang his dirties on my pack to sunbake for a bit. We’ve always been able to get back at it without further problems.

3) Change the Narrative

“How much further?” or “When will we get there?” or the fatal “I can’t do this. I hate you forever.” Add to the list your favorite excuses for not being able to finish a trail, mount a series of switchbacks or and acute and undying need to turn-around-now-yes-right-now-before-I-lay-down-on-the-trails-of-throw-an-unholy-devil-fit-Dad-why-are-you-so-mean.

Adults do this too, but kids, man, they can really invent some amazingly rich narratives. Add a little pain to the mix and you’d think that they were trudging toward an icy Channel swim before an invading Nazi army.

My advice is learn to help them take control of their narrative. Arrest those negative thought patterns as early as you can, confront them with some reality, then provide some suggestions for alternative lines of thinking.

With my eldest, I wasn’t very good at this and ultimately I paid for my own deficit. With AralBear I’m very conscious of the tone and tenor of what he says when we hike. “Dad, my feet hurt.”

Okay, I buy that, but what can you do to change the narrative? “Try using these rocks to massage your feet as you walk. That’s it, roll your feet over each of them and feel the stretch in your arch and heel. Work those toes. Can you feel it?”

“Yeah Dad, I feel it!”

Help the pick the lens they’ll use to look at the world around them.

4) Channel Patience

Sometimes, I’ve got to yell “Hey, don’t go further than you can see me.” Sometimes.

Most other times, AralBear’s pace is somewhere behind mine. He’s got things to do and see. That means I’ve got to wait.

Forty-year-old Matt is orders of magnitude more patient than twenty or even thirty-something Matt ever could have hoped to be. He watches at the six-year-old Aral is doing and saying (especially when he stops to beatbox … go figure).

Point being, patience is your friend. Get comfortable with it and you’ll be living on six-year-old time.

5) Be Picky About Friends

This is a tough one, of the five, the toughest in my opinion. Of AralBear’s array of friends, however, there’s only a handful I’d like to take with us on a hike.

First, it’s difficult to impossible to apply the first four rules-of-thumb to other people’s kids. I can’t afford to shoe the world with good boots (and socks) and when I attempt to help an unknown kid change his or her narrative I’m increasingly likely to be met with the OMG old man eye-roll.

Perhaps, most importantly, if you allow the wrong kid to come along you’re tainting your hiking ecosystem. To be clear, when I speak of hiking with a kid, I’m talking about the cultivation of a precariously balanced mental garden. Keeping your rose standing up tall in the sunshine can be difficult on its own, but let another flower into your garden and you’re likely going to watch both of them wilt.

That’s not to say you can’t have outside kids come. I’ve had some great times with other-people’s-kids along for the trek, but, I’ve also learned that it’s important to understand what these boys and girls bring to the trail.

Hiking with a Six-Year-Old

Yesterday, AralBear and I made our way up into the Cascades to spend some time walking. This is not the first time we’ve done this, but he did amazingly well.

We ended up hiking Snow Lake Trail 1013 despite seeing the parking packed with about 30 cars; more than expected for a Friday, but most parties were small and spread out along the whole distance.

Trail Conditions

By and large, the trail is good repair. There are a number of locations on the climb up to the pass between Chair Peak and Snoqualmie Mountain where rock retaining work has eroded and soil, as well as trail surface, is being lost.  The far side of the pass, where the trail descends to Snow Lake has a good deal of snow pack left over the trail. It’s melting rapidly, but still, presents a technical obstacle for hikes especially on the descent.

Between Aral and I we picked up a good collection of trash. A great indication of how much love this trail sees during Independence Day celebrations. Add to this that we encountered no less than three parties of people playing music over a Bluetooth speaker and you get the general idea of how the first half of the hike worked out.

Things to Follow Up On

As you can imagine hiking with a very active and curious young boy represents some challenges. The good news is that AralBear is both excited for the adventure and happy to be out on the trail. That really helps me stay motivated. We ran into a small pile of challenges on this trip because I didn’t prepare enough.

Dry Socks

We ate lunch near one of the many streams that feed Snow Lake. The sun was out and there are a bunch of different perennials in bloom right now. This particular spot was jam packed with both. Despite the temperature, Aral wanted very much to test the waters. I let him.

At one point, while jumping from rock to rock, he dipped a shoe and sock into the water and came up soaked. Then later, after I had spread out his footwear to dry, in the sunshine he sat in the water. I brought myself dry socks (which I didn’t need), I neglected to pack a pair for him.

To follow up on this I’m going to need to acquire some more hiking capable socks for him. I know he’s going to use them.

Lightweight Sunscreen

Usually, I carry zinc oxide in a tidy and lightweight tube for sunscreen. However, these days I’m having difficulty keeping the stuff on for any length of time. So far I’ve burnt my shoulders twice this season. The stuff that works usually comes in a big ass can, which is both too big and heavy for me to ever want to add to my pack.

I’m going to need to examine my options here. This may require that I start buying/wearing long sleeves for more complete coverage?

Keeping Clean

AralBear schooled me yesterday. What I learned is that I am not prepared to keep a kid like him even remotely clean over any distance. At one point, on our way back to the car, we had this exchange.

“Dad, what’s all this brown stuff?”

I turned and looked over my shoulder to be sure. His chest was covered with rivulets of grimy trail dust. “That’s dirt.”

“Oh good, I thought it was poop.”

Part of this solution set is going to be teaching him good trail hygiene habits. Right now he’s just into everything regardless. But, until that time, I’ve got to add something my kit to aid me in cleaning him up.

Teaching Aral About Wilderness

Last and perhaps most important I need to work on passing on the value of wilderness to Aral. I’m uncertain if he really understood the world he walked into yesterday when he passed the obligatory boundary marker with me.

WTA Hike-A-Thon 2017


It’s that time of year again. I can hear the high country calling. Don’t worry I’m not going to run the whole month away and rack up tons of miles. This year will be the first time Aral and I do this together, so we’ll be hiking at a reasonable pace with lots of time to stop and soak in the scenery.

This is the same project I was working on back in 2009 when I ran into a Pacific Crest Trail hiker that had fallen near Alaska Lake. The Hike-a-thon is a big deal to me because trails are and have been a major concern of mine since I was a kid. Back in 1987, I spent a summer volunteering with the Student Conservation Association working on a segment of the Colorado Trail and this changed me forever. Right now trails and public lands are under constant threat. Budgets that were little more than bone and gristle are being cut, fire season is upon us, and here in the Pacific North West trails had a hard winter.

“What is the Washington Trails Association,” you ask? WTA’s mission is to preserve, enhance, and promote hiking opportunities in Washington state through collaboration, education, advocacy and volunteer trail maintenance. Learn more about WTA by visiting their website. From my point of view, the WTA is the single most effective and efficient regional volunteer organization stewarding foot trails in my experience.

“What do I get out of this?” you remain curious. I’ll be coordinating our trail days through my Patreon page which means that all donations there get special access to trip reports, pictures, movies, and gear reviews. Plus I’m donating everything I make through Patreon to WTA in July and August. Finally, donations are 100% deductible. Even better, all donations of $50 or more include a year-long membership to WTA. Membership includes a subscription to Washington Trails magazine, a member decal and special access to events and discounts. So, regardless of how you support me and the WTA, there’s something in it for you.

If you can’t make a donation, help me reach my goal by sharing this page on Facebook and Twitter! Or, even better, send an e-mail to friends you think might be interested in contributing and include a link to the Hike-a-thon.

Name The New Ride

Help me name the new ride

That’s right, above is the new 700 x 47 CC Surly Long Haul Trucker (in Blacktacular) I recently purchased for some long-range, self-supported action I have planned. As is the custom in my house I need to name this ride. The bike it replaces is an elderly gelding that has been rolling for almost as long as me. It was named Scout after Tonto’s horse.

I’ve since stopped naming bikes after famous horse (although Mr. Ed has occurred to me). Its companion, a plus-sized version is my 2011 Surly Necro Pug, is named Rosie from Farley Mowat‘s 1963 autobiography Never Cry Wolf.

“Bored to death!”

New Years Resolutions 2017

For Us, and this is the Imperial “Us,” last year was a full-fledged, no-holds-barred goat rodeo. Lots of famous people died, even more, not-so-famous people passed away, and then we elected the first Ompah-Lompa to the highest office of our country. And let’s not forget that 2016 is expected to clock in as the hottest year in more than 136 years of direct atmospheric measurement.

Despite the fact that we could be looking back at the burnt and tangled wreckage of our cluster event that’s not what this post is about, is it? Nope! We’re looking forward, because gosh darn it, 2017 should be better.

So, without further adieu, here are a few of my New Years resolutions.

Take Aral Backpacking

Have you any idea how troublesome it is to locate appropriately sized backpacking gear for a six-year-old? Seriously! As a result, I’m banging the rust off some of my ill-used sewing skills. Our first box of supplies showed up yesterday, and I’ve opened up the Pfaff.

I’ve read a small collection of articles lately that all center around the “problem” of young people staying indoors too much. First, this makes me feel old, namely because now aged enough to see two generations of young people growing up under my branches. For instance, this article in Outside — “The Outdoor Industry Has a Millennial Problem” — posits a number of causes for the drop in younger people being involved in Wilderness, but my older son Justin recently informed me of the only reason that really matters.

In a recent phone conversation, he told me that he doesn’t really know “How to plan a bike tour.” In his possession, he’s got some of the best gear for this purpose ever constructed. He’s been on a couple of nice long ones, enough to know that a bike tour is largely just an exercise in improvisation between disparate locations. I about sprained my eyes rolling them, but I listened all the same. That’s what old people are supposed to do.

It seems that I may have made some mistakes raising the first one. Go figure. I let him labor under the misunderstanding that getting outside requires precision planning and forethought. It doesn’t.

Rather, what you need, he has in spades. An ability to learn from your mistakes, an abundant sense of wonder, and a warm jacket. Alright, maybe some warm socks too. But seriously, that’s the bar of entry to this and many other outdoor endurance sports.

Aral and I have been walking a lot. He just completed a 4-miler (long for him at 6) without even noticing that it was indeed longer than most of the walks he’d previously done. He finished with a smile on his face. So, Mr. Thyer, how to you teach a kid that he can pass the bar-to-entry for backpacking. We’ll you put a pack on his back and march him up the trail.

Continue Primal Lifestyle

I probably need to write up a review of this, but yeah wow, I’m doing so much better. Last Septemeber started a “diet” which essentially got me out from under the consequences of the Standard American Diet. I’ve lost a lot of weight, I’ve kept this weight off too, but even better, I’m not always inflamed. My face, my foot, my sinuses, even my fingers are significantly less bulky. My joints move easier, even when they’re cold.

Tess bought me a pressure cooker for Xmas, and she’s been saying that she wants to join in the fun. Now all I need to do is teach Aral to like eating nuts.

Recover and Publish Short Stories

John Hancock's Recovered Short from Immortality Chronicles

John Hancock’s Recovered Short from Immortality Chronicles

One of my favorite things about publishing through Windrift Books is that after a pretty short period of time all rights revert to the author. Amazon’s relentless expansion of lists means that there’s a place for short stories. Great Stories In One Sitting breaks down reads, based on their length, by the approximate time it will take most people to read them. A lot of Samuel Peralta’s authors have been floating to the top with stories they’ve published previously through him.

GOAT (“Greatest of All Things,” in case you didn’t know) was my contribution to the acclaimed Doomsday Chronicles. It’s gotten great reviews next to the other PA fiction in that collection, and I had the best time writing it. Consequently, I’ve begun to develop one of the supporting characters from that story by writing more about him. Murray Biyaal is a sort of MacGyver hero of the Navajo Nation in a crumbling Western future.

I’m going to start with GOAT and plan to self-publish a whole series based on this cast.

 

An Explanation

Little Bear Beating Feet

Little Bear Beating Feet

Those of you who follow me on Strava may have noticed that recently I’ve started to shake things up a bit. Instead of steadily building runs through island forests, you’ve likely seen me walking … sometimes slowly … usually with our youngest son in tow.

My original plan was to return to Ultra running. Build up slowly safely and then get back into racing. The end goal was to run long FKTs and multi-day events. I’d been working toward this goal steadily and successful since September when I made a bunch of changes in my diet and lifestyle to aid me along this path.

Then the holiday season and subsequent breaks befell us and, well, there’s just no way to carve out a couple of hours of your day, each day, while you go run and still provide anything that resembles child care for your kid who is at home. Maybe some of you young dynamos can do it, but not me. I was already a hot mess.

But here’s the truly wonderful thing I discovered while Aral was home for the holidays. He may not be interested or capable of running at my pace or close to the distances I wanted to achieve, but he’s enthusiastic about backpacking.

Consequently, I’m in the process of reviewing my near and long-term goals and looking for ways to make them work for the two of us. We’ve been hiking around the island a lot the last couple of weeks and he’s been showing a great deal of interest in the idea of Wilderness. I’m investigating backpacking trips for kids his age and realize that there just aren’t a lot of people doing this.

I’ve since found a couple of guides and ordered the materials for making him a sized-to-fit SUL backpack, but there is a dearth of written experience and it’s more than a little troubling. Kids can and probably should get out into the woods every day. All day, if possible. He comes back a better, happier kid without fail.

I’ve been constructing the outline for my own guide/semi-autobiographical tome on the subject and I think this may be where I’m now headed.

Shoutout to My Homies at Backcountry

BC's main office in SLC

BC’s main office in SLC

As many of you are aware my favorite pair of running shoes are on their that thread of life. I have only one pair of Brooks Running’s fabulous PureGrit 2s left in serviceable condition and apparently I’m pounding through them. Okay, guess that means it’s time to find some new shoes.

I’ve tried pretty much everything that Brooks makes these days and have come away feeling profoundly underwhelmed. They’ve apparently decided that they only want to make motion-controlled trail shoes with a ridiculous amount of heal lift. Add to this that both the PureGrit 4 and the more current 5 come equipped with a plastic heel cup that hurts as soon as I slip them on. Brooks, I love you guys, but you’re not making anything I can wear. This makes me a sad, sad running to be sure, but the ground is far too cold for me to go barefooting. I’m going to move on then.

I ordered a couple of pairs of last season Altra Superior 1.0’s from Backcountry. First, because I’ve read good reviews of this shoe and second because I found them half price at Backcountry.com. The cream on this little find was that last season’s version came in gray and orange — which I like — so you can imagine how excited I was when the box was dropped on my stoop.

I opened the shoes and slipped them on my feet only to discover that they generally fit small and apparently my foot has flattened out a little with age. Too small? Too small! Ack!

I set them atop the box with the hope that my foot would magically shrink overnight.

Here’s the good part, next morning I find an email from my Expert Gearhead Lisa Edlund awaiting my attention. She’s telling me about her excellent autumn weekend spent in the colors of Southern Colorado and asking how the shoes are working out.

“They don’t fit, what can I do?”

“Send them back to us. We’ll refund your money can you can find some that do fit.”

“Really,” I ask?

“Really. We’ll even cover the shipping.”

“Damn!”

Yeah, how about them apples folks? Not only will they fix a problem I created for myself, they’ve got a person assigned to me who remembers me. She speaks to me every time I order something even if it’s just to say “Hey man, what are you planning to do with this good stuff you just bought?”

I can’t purchase a pair of last season’s Altra Superior 1.0s in the size I need, they’re out of stock. But you can bet that I’m not going to waste my money elsewhere. New 2.0’s (in Racing Red/Chocolate) are on their way.

Thanks, Backcountry, and thank you, Lisa!